After weeks of drama, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is officially finished. (Perhaps a sign of how of the situation’s severity is that even Samsung Hong Kong has conformed, considering how the company’s Hong Kong leg reacted so irresponsibly during the last recall). The biggest question for many consumers now is “which phone do I switch to?”
From left: the Xiaomi Mi 5, LG V20, Samsung Galaxy Note 7, OnePlus 3, and Huawei P9 Plus. (Photos: Ben Sin)
I’ve been a bit baffled that most publications that have recommended Note 7 alternatives so far have defaulted to the iPhone, the Google Pixel, and of course Samsung’s own Galaxy S7. I’m not just talking about the very mainstream news sites, who have long acted like the only alternative to Apple is Samsung and vice versa, but even the niche Android blogs. Why no mention of the OnePlus 3, which was highly rated by every virtually single publication? Or the LG V20, an excellent improvement over last year’s well-reviewed LG V10? The lack of mention of LG as an alternative by mainstream US media during this whole Samsung fiasco has been absurd (considering the two companies are fierce rivals from the same country).
This has been an amazing year for smartphones, and there are plenty of wonderful alternatives to the Note 7. Samsung fanboys might be on internet forums saying “there’s nothing close to the Note 7″, but that’s not true. The Note 7, while great, was always a bit overrated (the thing had visible lag because Samsung’s software is mediocre). All of these devices will do more than great as a daily driver for most people, and some of them run smoother and better than the Note 7. Heck, they’re also cheaper, some a lot more so. Unless, of course, you’re one of those Note diehards who can’t use a phone without a stylus. If you’re one of those, then sorry buddy, the Note 5 is your only alternative.
So without further ado, here’s a list of 2016 alternatives that should replace your Note 7 quite fine as a daily driver, depending on your need…
If you want a similar large screen and camera…
The LG V20 offers the same 5.7-inch screen, at the exact same resolution. The Note 7′s AMOLED panels does indeed bring deeper/truer blacks, but the V20′s display is absolutely among the best in the industry too. The V20′s screen tend to be much cooler than the Note 7, which aims for warmer colors, but that’s a matter of preference. As for the camera, I’ve long took the stance — even before the Note 7 woes started popping up and it was placed on a pedestal by tech writers — that the Note 7 camera wasn’t that much better than other flagship phones’ camera. Here is a photo shootout I did with the Note 7 vs the LG V20, I think it’s clear the V20 holds up.
If you want a superior normal daily use experience…
The OnePlus 3 is a smoother and faster phone than the Note 7. This is a fact. I have a video showing it, and everyone who has used both phones do not deny this. Part of that is due to the Chinese phone having 6GB of RAM (to the Note 7′s 4GB), but mostly it’s because OnePlus’ OxygenOS is just a far, far better Android skin than the the Note 7′s TouchWiz (I know Samsung has changed its name to Grace, but that thing is still TouchWiz unless they clean it up). I switch between phones often, and every time I’ve switched back to the OnePlus 3 (or, say, the LG V20 or Huawei P9 Plus) after using the Note 7 for a few days, I’m startled by how much faster a non-Samsung phone is. On the OnePlus 3, the SwiftKey keyboard feels noticeably bouncier (I’m a fast typer) than the Note 7; hitting the share tab from Chrome brings up the various share channels instantaneously; searching for things within settings bring up results in real time (the Note 7 needs a second or two to load results).
The best part? The OnePlus 3 is a very premium feeling metal unibody phone, and it costs less than half as much as the Note 7. The only downside to the OnePlus 3 is that there isn’t an option for additional storage via MicroSD card.
If you like the curved glass feel on Galaxy phones…
The Xiaomi Mi 5 has a very similar body to Samsung’s Galaxy line of phones, most notably the curved glass back.
The Xiaomi Mi 5 has a back that’s very similar to the Note 7, in that it’s all glass and features a cool curve (that feels great in the hand) on both edges. The phone also comes packed with the same Snapdragon 820 processor as the US, China and Hong Kong variant of the Note 7, and even has similar hardware buttons. In all, the Mi 5 very closely resembles the feel of using a Samsung phone. The catch is the screen on the Mi 5 is only 5.1-inch, and Note users are generally into larger screens. But if you’re ok with smaller screen, the Mi 5 is a great phone (I reviewed it here). And it too costs less than half of the Note 7.
If you want more camera tricks …
The Huawei P9 Plus is another strong Chinese phone that ticks most of the boxes. The EMUI Android skin takes a bit of getting used to, and its battery management is so strong that you have to make a few tweaks to ensure you get timely notifications, but the P9 Plus feels premium, and it has a very fun dual-camera setup that allows for a lot of photography tricks like light graffiti or those long-exposure light trail shots.
Shot with the Huawei P9 Plus.
Also shot with the P9 Plus.
These shots, in particular the second one, are simply not possible on most smartphone cameras, including the Note 7. And even if you’re using the camera straight, the P9 Plus’ shooters hold its own against the Note 7 (but Samsung’s camera is better by a bit).
Now Samsung fans might claim that the “downgrade” from the Note 7′s quad HD display to the P9 Plus’s 1080p is not acceptable, but the reality is, the human eye can’t see the difference between 1080p and quad HD on a display that’s not even 6-inches big. You might see a slight difference in quality if you’re watching HDR video content, but otherwise, for 99% of smartphone use — going on Instagram, Facebook, sending emails, surfing the web, etc — there is no difference between a 1080p and quad HD display. The latter is unnecessary tech pushed by phone companies stuck in a pissing contest.
The P9 Plus’ screen next to the Note 7′s screen. Though the Samsung panel has a higher resolution, the human eye won’t be able to notice the difference.
If you want more info on this phone, I have a review of it here.
If, at the end of the day, you just want to switch to something safe and easy, like the iPhone 7 Plus or Google Pixel XL, you’ll end up with good phones (if you can accept those hideous bezels tho…), but I just want consumers to know there are more options out there. Mainstream news outlets are always going to default to the “iPhone or Samsung” mentality, because it’s the two most obvious choices, and most of the writers probably only have one phone on them anyway. I have all the above phones on me. I have used them all. And I’m telling you, they all offer equal experiences to the Note 7 mostly, and better experiences in some ways.